A little more about me?

Many of you know me personally, but for any of you who don’t, I thought I’d share some random tidbits about me so you’ll know what you are dealing with. LOL

I’m 44. I grew up in a small town in southern Indiana, and I still visit there at least once a year to see all of my family. I went to Indiana University for my undergrad degree in biology, with minors in english and anthropology. I always really enjoyed writing, and while i did have a handful of things published in medical journals during my years in medicine, my change in career has left me a lot more opportunity to write, which is fun. My Mom was a high school english teacher, though, and so I am always slightly worried about whether my grammar is correct in my writings (jk Mom, I think I get it right most of the time thanks to your tutelage). I went to IU also for medical school, and then left Indiana for residency and fellowship in Tucson, Arizona, where I met and fell in love with my best friend, Robert. And since 2015, we have called sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico our home. We absolutely love living here, near the ocean, in a glorious, relaxed, and vibrant community that has been truly healing and nourishing for me.

It sounds corny, but my husband really is my best friend. I was married before, so I know how dramatically different things can be with the right (vs wrong) person by your side, and I am beyond grateful to have Robert. He has been there through work stress, cancer, an international move, as well as through so many amazing memories, both little and big. He makes everything in life easier and more fun, and helps me stay grounded and true to myself.

I never had kids of my own, but am lucky to have 7 beautiful nieces and nephews, and I love to visit them and also to have them visit me here in Mexico! And when I married my husband, I was blessed with 2 amazing step-kids, and now a lovely grandchild and another on the way. Being an aunt and a grandmother is pretty awesome stuff. I’m also really close to my Mom and love going on adventures with her. We went on an incredible trip to India a couple of years ago, and are now plotting our next trip for once covid travel issues are resolved.

I was always a pretty intense person, with a real tendency to overwork, overachieve, overcommit, overexercise, and just generally rush through everything to get to what I thought was the goal. Once I decided what I was going to do, I was on overdrive to get there, and probably missed a lot of scenery along the way. Changing careers, moving to mexico, practicing yoga, and having cancer have all helped me to see the benefits and feel the joy in slowing down, taking my time, enjoying the journey, being less rigid, being able to shift gears and explore different routes, and sometimes not even have a plan. I feel so much lighter, more relaxed, and more adaptable than I did when I was younger.

As you know, I love cats. I have 3, and would have more if I thought they would get along, and my husband wouldn’t kill me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I don’t have any tattoos, but am thinking seriously about getting a lotus flower on my back, as a symbol of the growth and transformation that can result from life’s challenges if we just allow it to happen. I think I’ve written at least one blog about the lotus flower and its symbolism. I’ll find it and link it here. https://yogawithleona.com/2018/12/30/may-i-live-like-the-lotus-at-ease-in-muddy-water/

I love reading books on yoga philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, and spirituality in general. My favorite authors are Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass, Jack Kornfield, and Pema Chodron, at the moment.

I am pretty proud of building this website myself. I didn’t know anything about websites, and while WordPress makes it as easy as it could be, there was still a ton to learn! The crazy covid year actually served as a real catalyst to get me to finally put in the work to get it done, since I was no longer busy teaching and taking yoga classes in person and had more time on my hands. It has been a fun and different challenge, learning new skills and overcoming obstacles.

I’d like to get better at gardening and cooking. Having cancer made me take my diet a lot more seriously, and recognize that it really is important what you put into your body. Duh, right? I used to drink a coke for breakfast every day at the office. OMG, how could I expect to be healthy?! I’m still not really rigid about it, but try to eat a lot more vegetables, healthy proteins, and minimize processed foods and refined carbs/sugars. I do like margaritas! ๐Ÿ˜‰

But as you all know, yoga is really my passion. I continue to be amazed and inspired by the benefits I feel in my body and my mind. I’m a total yoga science dork, and if you aren’t careful you can get stuck hearing about the latest scientific study I’ve read about the benefits or the mechanisms behind those benefits. My poor husband, LOL. I’ve been practicing for about 10 years, though for the first 4-5 years, I was lucky if I was able to find the time for practice 3 times a week. I currently practice usually 6 days a week, and teach 4 days a week either on Facetime or in person in addition. But don’t feel like you have to practice that much to get the benefits. Any little bit is worth it, so just do whatever feels right to you. I truly love sharing yoga with others, and am overjoyed when I can see someone else begin to feel better because of this simple practice.

All right, that may have been more than you ever wanted to know about me. But I hope it helps you get to know me a little better. Please let me know if you have any requests or feedback about the site, or if I can answer any questions you might have about yoga in cancer recovery.

Namaste friends

The wisdom of surrender in cancer recovery

Eckhart Tolle says “Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing, the flow of life”. The word surrender can sometimes have a bit of a negative connotation, like it means giving up or carries a quality of weakness along with it. But what ET is talking about here is something different, that I think can be one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves in traversing this cancer journey. This surrender is not one of “I give up”, or “I don’t care”, or a “whatever” attitude. Rather, the surrender he is talking about, and the one that I believe can bring us so much freedom, is more of a conscious acceptance of things as they are, of recognizing that no amount of resistance, opposition, defiance, or angst is going to change the facts or the events that have happened up to this moment. Because the moment is what it is. We can bang our head against a wall or scream at the universe, but that won’t change the facts. This type of surrender requires tremendous strength (the opposite of the weakness some might think it entails); the strength to see clearly the conditions in which we find ourselves, and to accept them wholeheartedly. If we do not surrender and accept our situation, we allow ourselves to stay in that mindset of resistance and continuous struggle, thinking “why has this happened”, “this can’t be happening”, “I can’t deal with it”, and “this is horrible” and we just create inner turmoil, distress, more discomfort for ourselves (and maybe even physical illness like ulcers, irritable bowels, or weakened immunity). On the other hand, if we can accept the situation as it is, we eliminate much of that distress, and can instead focus our minds and our energy on what steps we can take to make the next moment closer to the way we want it to be.

You might say, “this is BS, how am I just supposed to accept that I have cancer and have to take all of this crappy treatment?”. I don’t mean that you have to like it, or that you have to believe that it is great. Because let’s face it, some moments suck. And some situations we find ourselves in are really really difficult to deal with. But no amount of inner resistance will change the reality of the circumstances of this moment. That inner resistance just creates more suffering. So instead, we can learn to accept the circumstances as they are, and then choose our next steps from there. And hopefully from that place of peaceful acceptance, we make wise choices and are able to find some bright moments, even amongst the difficult ones, and then eventually better days come, as they typically do.

Let’s take an example. On the day before our next chemo, we could lie in bed and cry all day with misery anticipating how shitty we will feel after chemo, and remind ourselves of every yucky side effect that might arise, and how angry we are that we have to do this. On the other hand, we could accept that this cancer is, in fact, here, and needs to be dealt with. And this treatment is what we need to get better, so we will use that last day before chemo to get a little fresh air or exercise, and then prepare a few things we know will bring us comfort on those hard days ahead. See what a better approach the latter would be? And how much better we will have made everything, including those crummy post-chemo days, by having our favorite comfort foods or movies ready and prepared, as well as getting some joy and fun out of that last good day before treatment.

This is not always easy. It takes practice, just like everything else. So just start by trying to notice when you are resisting. When you feel inner resistance, inner turmoil, irritation, opposition, or defiance toward your situation. Once we notice we are doing this, we can see how it doesn’t make us feel good. How we feel tense, anxious, agitated, perhaps even sick to our stomach or slightly tight in the chest. We can then take a few deep breaths, and practice accepting the situation as it is. Stop and breathe a while here. It may take some time. The situation is what it is, so why fight it? Once you feel the resistance slipping away, notice if you feel a little more freedom, a little more openness, lightness, or clarity. And then you can choose your next actions from that place of peaceful acceptance and stillness.

For me, this practice of surrender, of quiet acceptance of my cancer and of what I needed to do to get myself well again, really helped me get through it much more easily. Surrender allowed me to feel peaceful inside, even though a battle was raging between the treatment and the disease. I chose not to let my mind and emotions also fall into battle. Surrender also showed me the depth of my resilience and strength, making me even more able to handle each next challenge with grace. And this practice continues to help me now, 4 years later, when stressful things come up with the cancer follow up, with some of my ongoing side effects from treatment, or from other non-cancer related life stressors. Give it a try and see if it helps you in the same way.

Namaste friends

(And enormous gratitude to Eckhart Tolle for his wisdom, which has guided me and taught me so much. If you haven’t read him, please do).

Gratitude is the attitude to help you thrive after cancer

I’ve been feeling extra grateful this week, knowing that it is the 4 year anniversary of my bilateral mastectomy (having completed 6 cycles of chemo before that), and it’s got me thinking about the many benefits of gratitude practice, especially for us cancer survivors. Sometimes it just hits me how healthy and strong and resilient I feel, how almost surprised I am at that, and how truly grateful I am to feel so well and so full of life. I wanted to share a little today, so that others who are earlier on in their cancer journey might be inspired to give a try to gratitude practice, and see how significant the benefits can be in helping one navigate through all of cancer’s challenges and recover to a place of amazing strength and beauty.

4 years ago I had no idea that I could ever get to this point, feel the way I feel today, or be able to live the life I am now living. For starters, I didn’t know for certain that I would even still be here. And beyond the simple accomplishment of surviving, I didn’t know if I would be able to be truly thriving. I was afraid of the possibility of debilitating effects of surgery, weakness, late chemotherapy side effects, chronic fatigue, memory loss, lymphedema, pain, and on and on. It was absolutely overwhelming the many things that I was afraid of. And for good reason. They are all potential side effects of cancer and cancer treatment. So if you’ve had the same fears, don’t beat yourself up about it. However, do recognize that allowing yourself to stay in a whirlwind of fear and negativity doesn’t do you much good. One awesome and easy way to help yourself out of those funks is to use gratitude practice.

Gratitude practice helps interrupt and distance us from negative or toxic emotions, and the ruminative thought vortices that often follow those types of emotions. Gratitude strengthens and encourages healthy emotions and thought patterns, making us feel happier, more joyful, more optimistic, and more relaxed. Gratitude practice also helps us feel more connected to other people, leaving us more open, understanding, and compassionate, which helps foster better relationships. Finally gratitude practice helps us feel more at peace, more accepting and trusting of our situations, even strengthening spiritual connections if you are so inclined.

You’ve probably also heard that there is a well of scientific literature on the proven benefits of gratitude practices. In various different situations, gratitude practice has been associated with improved mood, higher levels of energy, self-esteem and self-efficacy, improved sleep, enhanced peace of mind, reduced stress, and even lower markers of chronic inflammation (and you all know that chronic inflammation is a bad actor in heart health, cognitive function, cancer, and much more!). So it isn’t just woowoo, or some kind of witchcraft. Legit science confirms that gratitude practice makes us feel better in so many ways. So wow, why would we NOT practice gratitude?!

There are many ways to practice gratitude. You could just start a gratitude journal, and write daily about anything for which you are grateful. You could even write about it on facebook! You can practice gratitude meditations. You can focus on gratitude during your yoga practice. You can write letters of gratitude to others. Or you can just try to express gratitude more often in day to day life situations.

I’ll share with you a few of the things on my gratitude list for today. I’m grateful for the miracles of modern medicine. Without the chemotherapy, herceptin, and perjeta that I was fortunate enough to receive, who knows if I would even be alive (I am also now grateful to be off of these medicines because the diarrhea sucked big time). Also, without the surgical advances, I might have had much more debilitating effects from bilateral mastectomy and axillary node dissection (20 something nodes removed). Don’t get me wrong, I DO have side effects from my surgery and radiation. It isn’t perfect. It hurts sometimes and my shoulder is a little wonky. But it is WAAAAY better that what women had to deal with years ago. So yes, even though it isn’t perfect, I remain grateful (here is a perfect example of how gratitude practice helps you shift away from the negative thought/emotion, reframing it to a positive one). I’m grateful to so many lovely people who sent prayers and good vibes for my recovery. I’m grateful to family and friends who helped take care of me, both physically and emotionally, through it all.

Finally, I’m grateful to my yoga practice. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts, you know how much I believe yoga helped me recover to where I am today. Yoga taught me resilience, patience, acceptance, gentleness and compassion for myself. Yoga also empowered me, and helped me see that I could get strength and function back, in many ways becoming even stronger than before cancer. Yoga helped me feel more connected to and in tune with my body, including the new changes that came with cancer, as well as others that come as a normal function of aging. And yoga has helped me look within, finding that place of stillness, peace, light, and joy that is always there, despite whatever storms might be going on around me. Yoga is always on my list of things to be grateful for because it truly changed my life.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m grateful that I learned to practice gratitude. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Give it a try. It really does work.